French Navy Seizes Five Tonnes of Cocaine From Freighter off Africa

Med Sea lion
Courtesy Marine Nationale

Published Apr 12, 2023 3:24 PM by The Maritime Executive

Last week, fresh off an antipiracy mission in the Gulf of Guinea, the French patrol vessel Premier-Maitre L'Her intercepted a St. Kitts-flagged freighter and seized nearly five tonnes of cocaine off the west coast of Africa. 

With support from the flag state and France's National Directorate of Intelligence (DNRED), the crew of the L'Her tracked and intercepted the freighter Med Sea Lion on April 5. A Falcon 50 maritime patrol aircraft from a French Navy detachment in Senegal provided surveillance and overwatch while a boarding team from L'Her transferred over to the suspect vessel. 

After a search, the team found a total of more than 4,700 kilos of cocaine on board the freighter. The drugs were transferred back to the patrol ship for destruction. 

Premier-Maitre L'Her has been under way in the waters off West Africa since January 2023, and she is tasked with supporting regional antipiracy and maritime security measures. On March 30, the patrol vessel joined in the search for a hijacked tanker in the Gulf of Guinea, and the L'Her's crew were first to locate the missing vessel and to arrive on scene to assist. Six of the tanker's crewmembers had been kidnapped, and L'Her escorted the vessel and the remaining crew to a safe anchorage.

The waters off Africa's northwestern coast have become a hub for the cocaine trade from South America. Smugglers load the drugs on ships headed across the Atlantic, then transfer it at sea to fishing vessels off the African coast for transport to Europe. Most of the activity is concentrated further north near Western Sahara and the Canary Islands, where Spanish authorities make frequent multi-tonne drug busts offshore. 

Med Sea Lion is a 2005-built freighter operated by a Turkish firm and flagged with St. Kitts. She has an extensive history of inspection deficiencies, according to her Equasis record, both before and after the change to her current ownership.